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January 9, 2014

Chef Talk: George Sabatino Offers Up His Picks For Great Restaurants, Local Ingredients And The Ultimate Philadelphia Dining Experience

Chef George Sabatino has worked in acclaimed kitchens around the city, and is now a top toque in his own right with a new restaurant in the works for 2014. (Photo by Yoni Nimrod for COOK)

[Philadelphia’s charms as an eating town are increasingly well known, but it’s also a city that harbors a fair number of hidden delights. Visit Philly asked five local food luminaries to share where they like to go on their off-hours, what they snack on late at night, their favorite low-cost meals and why they love to cook and dine in Philly. Here, we share the results.]

Born and raised in New Jersey, George Sabatino came to Philadelphia to study cooking at such local notable restaurants as Fork, Ansill and Marcie Turney’s Lolita and Bindi before helming the highly acclaimed all domestically sourced kitchen at Stateside.

Since his Stateside departure, Sabatino’s current projects include the seasonal eateries Morgan’s Pier and The Lodge at Waterfront Winterfest, as well as menu design for South Philly’s Boot & Saddle bar. And, in spring 2014, he’s expected to open Aldine in Rittenhouse Square. His flair is for making homemade everything, from charcuterie to preserves and coaxing big flavors out of ingredients high and low.

What’s your favorite upscale restaurant in Philly?
Vernick. It’s the total package restaurant, and it never disappoints. The food is deceptively simple — the crudo and steak tartare toast are standouts — and the front of the house does an incredible job.

What are some of your favorite locally made ingredients?
Three Springs Fruit Farm has wonderful products. Lately, at the Lodge I’ve been ordering 200 gallons of cider a week—they deliver it on Thursdays after pressing it that morning so it’s amazingly fresh and really awesome. We serve it warm, spiced with cardamom, cinnamon and star anise.

Where’s the best place to eat on the cheap?
I would say Nam Phuong, which is my favorite restaurant in the city. I always get the beef jerky salad and the beef noodle soup. Or Ba Le Bakery for banh mi sandwiches.

What restaurant offers the ultimate Philly experience and why?
I never fell into the whole cheesesteak war, so I’m going to say Zahav. It’s a four-bell fine dining Israeli restaurant, and there’s absolutely nothing else like it anywhere else. The personality shines through from the service staff to the music to the food. It’s a place that attracts people from all over—everyone wants to come check out what Chef Solo [Michael Solomonov] is doing.

What ingredient or dish can you only get in Philly?
Green Meadow Farm paw-paws. You might be able to get this fruit around other areas of Pennsylvania, but it’s indigenous to the area and pretty rare these days. It comes into season around late September/early October, and I always order some to make a mustard to go with my housemade headcheese or use it as a garnish for my housemade scrapple. I just have to have it!

[Photo: Yoni Nimrod for COOK]

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